There Are Still Some Affordable American Classics
We go shopping and come back happily surprised…
By Brendan Moore
I recently stopped off at a place that had a few dozen old American muscle cars parked outside, and all bearing “For Sale” signs. Those cars that looked pretty good from the road looked a lot worse up close (that’s the way it usually works) and after a cursory look at the seller’s tired-looking inventory, I got back in my car and headed home. It was depressing to see cars that were obviously in such bad shape offered for sale at ridiculously high prices.
A couple of days later, I was talking with a friend of mine about the (lack of) affordable choices available in a classic car to regular people who just want a fun car to ride around in and enjoy themselves. Something they can afford, and isn’t a project car – they can actually drive it shortly after they buy with a minimum of work done after the purchase. When we first started talking about it, my assumption was that there really weren’t a lot of those cars around since the mania for American muscle cars set in during the late 90’s drove prices through the stratosphere. But, surprisingly, once we started comparing notes, we came up with a pretty long list of entertaining drives in the classic car category that could be owned by the wealth-challenged without a lot of time and money invested. Granted, they’re not matching-number big block-equipped Plymouth Road Runners or Corvette Sting Rays, but they’re all cars with a good fun or style quotient.
Here’s how we developed the list: We set a ceiling of $10,000 all-in (purchase price plus additional work to make it a good driver), a minimum age of 25 years old, and of course, the requirement of domestic provenance. We went through ads in various publications that list classic cars, checked eBay, the classic car auctions listings, etc. to find the real cars that we would use as pricing examples. Some of them we called or emailed to get more information or better photos. Since we are veteran classic car buyers, we ignored grandiose claims when necessary, and added extra money for rehabilitation when we thought we were not getting a full and honest description in the ad. As I stated previously, I was surprised at how many affordable classics we came up with in this exercise. I could probably list a few dozen cars here, but, how about if I just give you the 10 cars I would probably buy first. You can make your own list at your leisure.
1968 AMC Rambler 2-DR Sedan –
The one I zeroed in on was for sale in New Mexico and advertised thusly: “Straight-six, automatic, new factory color blue paint, new factory-spec upholstery, no rust (believable in NM), new radials all around, and new exhaust. No accident damage visible. Odometer says 49,000 miles but has turned over. Very strong runner. $4500”
I actually owned one of these previously, a 1969 model year in pale yellow with gray interior – nice car with Lois Lane looks. The Rambler six is truly bulletproof and the AMC Rambler was built pretty strong in general. A simple, easy car to own.
1981 Checker Marathon –
“Never used as a taxi, privately owned. Has the Chevrolet V6 and the automatic. This car is a tank. Factory AC, but it isn’t working as it needs a new compressor. Some rust in wheel arches. Everything on this car is big – the seats, the trunk, etc. Will carry a lot of people and their luggage. Engine needs some minor work. Color is maroon with black interior, color is original color. Lots of work done inside so interior looks great, exterior looks good (not great, but good), and engine needs some work. Or you could just bolt in a small-block GM V8. $4995 Right outside of Chicago.”
The chances of the rust being minor on this car from right outside Chicago are pretty slim indeed. But Checker Marathons are great big ol’ boats and a lot of fun to drive around in, as long as you don’t want to go anywhere fast, and the engine problems can be easily addressed, even if it comes to replacing it with another engine. If the rust isn’t too bad, this is a great buy.
1979 Chevrolet Malibu Coupe –
Found one in Charleston, SC: “I am selling this for my father as he cannot use a computer. He bought this car new and it has the 305 V8 with the three-speed automatic transmission. Seats are torn and driver’s seat has burn holes. Carpet needs to be replaced and so does headliner. Body is straight, but needs exhaust manifold. AC not working. New battery. Runs well, but real loud. 127,000 miles. $2500 or best offer.”
I’ve always thought the coupe in this model to be very attractive, and the engines and transmissions are plug-n-play with other Chevrolet engines and transmissions if you want to go a little faster. Same goes for the brakes and suspension – it’s all GM stuff and lots of better GM stuff will go on the car without much trouble.
1966 Chevrolet Corvair Coupe –
“California car it’s whole life and has just undergone complete restoration so it looks and runs perfect. Everything is this car is either original, NOS, or from Clark’s Corvairs. The flat-six engine purrs like a kitten and it has the desirable 4-speed. Pale green factory color. New high-dollar stereo, but mounted in the glove compartment so everthing still looks original inside. There is not a single thing wrong with this car and you can drive it anywhere with confidence. I have spent far more restoring it than my asking price. $9500 firm.”
The second-generation Corvair had great Italian-influenced styling and an improved suspension over the first-generation. I love the way these cars look, and I love the way they drive. Man, what could have been if GM had just stuck with this car and improved it over the years. And it seems like this one needs nothing.
1965 Lincoln Continental 4-DR –
“Blue with white leather, excellent body and paint, interior is not perfect but very presentable, everything works, even all the power stuff that usually doesn’t work, although the driver’s side window is very slow. Runs out fine. Originally was my grandfather’s car, then my dad’s, now mine. Need the money for a house or I wouldn’t sell it. Eastern PA, near Philly. $5995 OBO”
Everybody wants the convertible, so the hardtops go begging. No miles listed, so you have to assume they’re high, but the engines in these cars are just about indestructible. In fact, the whole car was pretty much hand-built, and Lincoln road-tested every one and ran the engine in on every car as well before delivery – one of the reasons so many are alive still. High style for beer money.
1967 Oldsmobile Toronado –
“Black beauty with black interior. Kansas car from new, now has 112,000 actual miles. Chrome is perfect, body is perfect, runs perfect. The 425 big block does not burn any oil at all. Everything works great, but the interior needs some work. Car has always been garaged, but people getting in and out of it for 40 years has taken its toll. $9400 OBO”
An engineering tour-de-force from General Motors, I believe the first-generation Toronado is one of the finest cars General Motors ever made. If you don’t mind the bulked-up front end of the 1968 and 1969 models, you can get the same car for much cheaper as just about everyone wants the 66-67 front-end look. Great car, great-driving car, and they were available with front disc brakes as a factory option if you can find one of those.
1966 Chrysler 300 4-DR
“383 engine, auto-box, factory dual exhaust, AC, power windows. A brute in a business suit. Perfect everywhere. I bought it from the original owner 21 years ago, and now it has to go because I have too many cars, and I want to stay married. Only 72,000 original miles and I have all the records. A steal at $8500.00 firm. AZ.”
Man, I want to buy this car right now. Wonderful clean and creased styling, quad headlamps, crisp looks and a high level of trim. A little high on the price, but if it’s as clean as described, it’s worth it.
1978 Cadillac Seville –
“This American Beauty is in wonderful condition, and has been pampered its whole life. Only 81,320 miles on the clock and the next owner will be the third owner. If you see this car, you will buy it. It’s as simple as that. Gray metallic with black top and black leather. New paint, but painted the original color, of course. Always garage-kept. Fuel-injected 350 moves out strongly, and transmission shifts silently and smoothly. Everything works, everything is perfect. Drive it anywhere with confidence. Syracuse, NY”
This car had 14 photos and a “Buy It Now” price on eBay of $5700. It looked extremely clean inside and out, and you could see it had been well-cared for during its life. I love these cars; consider them American classics and the only bright spot for Cadillac in the mid to late 70’s.
1964 Studebaker Lark Daytona –
“259 small block, auto, factory AC, power steering, original radio. Cosmetically perfect inside and out, but does not run. I have an R1 replacement engine (supercharged) as a Plan B that goes with the car, but I think anyone familiar with the Studebaker engine can probably fix the original engine. You will have to flatbed the car to your place. The perfect body and interior alone are worth the price of $6495, and I’m throwing in the extra R1 engine, which is very rare. Destin, Florida”
The Daytonas are light and really move out with the V8. Attractive styling doesn’t hurt, either. The factory-supercharged R1 engine is sought after; this is really a pretty good deal. You can fix the engine; it’s the interior parts and body parts that will make you crazy on the Studebakers. Be different – get a Studebaker!
1974 International Harvester 200 4WD Pickup–
“First, it has 65,340 ORIGINAL miles. Surface rust in bed, and that’s it. This rugged ¾ ton IH 4WD has spent its whole life on a farm here in Iowa and I believe the mileage is original. Red with black vinyl interior. Equipment includes: 392 V8 engine, 727 auto trans with cooler, NP 205 T-case, Dana 44 disc brake front axle/Dana 60 rear axle with 3.54 highway gears for best fuel economy, HD front and rear shocks, 7700# GVW, dual electric horns, dual 15 gallon gas tanks, tinted glass, day/night rear view mirror and dual low profile RV mirrors, “Custom” interior trim package with working IH clock, A/C (needs charged), rare rear cargo light with dash switch, interior cab lights, chrome front bumper, 7 way trailer plug wiring, HD rear bumper, 275/70 R16 Goodyear tires. I have also spent a lot of money on things like a new battery, new wipers, new mirrors, new exhaust, etc. Runs great, looks great. Tough as nails. Outside of Davenport. $8995”
Okay, sign me up right now. I am a sucker for the last-generation IH pickups, and the things are built like anvils to boot. This sold in four days, and a guy came all the way to Iowa from Texas with a trailer to get it. I think the seller might have been a little low on the asking price. IH had a great (and deserved) reputation for toughness and durability in their passenger vehicle line, and trucks like this are the reason.
Well, there are my ten vehicles. As I said, there a couple of dozen more that fit the criteria that I wouldn’t mind owning, but these really jumped out at me. So, lots of hope left for the non-millionaires among us that want a classic American car (or truck).
Go on, get out there and buy something!
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